Millions face food shortages owing to desert locust invasions said to be worst in 70 years

As the world marks World Food Day on Friday with the aim of achieving “zero hunger,” millions of people in East Africa are facing growing food insecurity due to desert locust invasions in the region.

In Kenya, locust swarms said to be the worst in 70 years ravaged farmlands just before the harvest period, destroying huge swathes of food crops.

According to the World Bank, the country’s northern region is the worst hit and food security of some 3 million people is under threat.

East Africa’s food basket region received copious rainfall over the summer, promising farmers a good yield and giving nomadic pastoralists abundant grazing land.

The downpour, though, also provided fodder for desert locust swarms that originated in Yemen, moved to Somalia, and spread across East Africa.

The UN’s food assistance agency has warned that a new wave of locusts is about to hit the region, saying the imminent insect invasion will aggravate existing food shortages.

In May, the World Food Programme said 20 million people were food insecure in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Rwanda, Sudan, Burundi, South Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea.

In Kenya, where locusts have torn through more than a quarter of the country’s counties, farmers and nomadic pastoralists have been left devastated.

“The locusts have eaten everything in my farm; an acre of maize, millet, watermelons, and vegetables was just gone in a single day,” Anne Ajele, a farmer in the Turkana East county, told Anadolu Agency.

“Even thieves would not have taken this much from me. I will sleep hungry and so will you, because your food comes from farms like mine.”

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), locust swarms can range from less than one square kilometer to over 1,000 square kilometers. 

Each square kilometer of a swarm can have between 40 million to 80 million locusts.

A desert locust adult can consume roughly its own weight in fresh food per day – about two grams every day – so a small swarm eats the same amount of food in a day as about six elephants, 20 camels, or 35,000 people, according to FAO.

“The damage that desert locusts can cause is not an exaggeration. Many farmers are facing grave threats to their food security. We have to support them through this crisis and the recovery period,” said Tobias Kavarsha, a representative of the UN agency in Kenya.